Member Spotlight: Sarah McHone-Chase

Illinois Association of College & Research Libraries Forum (IACRL)

March 20, 2020

by Elena Carrillo, University of Illinois at Chicago

Sarah McHone-Chase is currently Head of User Services at Founders Memorial Library at Northern Illinois University where she has worked in a variety of roles for more than 14 years. She has an MA in English Language and Literature from Illinois State University and an MS in Library Science and Information from University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign.

Tell us about your start in the library profession. Did you always want to work in libraries? If you could do it all over again is there something different you would do about your education or career?

No, I didn’t always want to be a librarian. Back in college and grad school, I worked at a literary press, and I thought that perhaps I would go into editing—honestly, I didn’t have a clear plan. Some of the work I was being asked to do at the press involved me going to the library to find materials that we needed, and the longer I spent on that work the more I realized how much I enjoyed doing that research and just being in the library. I was really using my skill set and I liked the possibility of really being able to help people. I think that if I could go back and do it all over again, I would have sought employment at the library as an undergrad, to get even more experience under my belt. I think some big surprises for me, in terms of librarianship, have been finding out how much I care about Access issues and finding that I am interested in, and at least somewhat good at, management and leadership.

What do you think is the biggest/most pressing concern for Libraries in terms of access right now? Is there anything NIU is doing in particular to address it?

Access really covers so much, don’t you think? I don’t know if I have thought about “what Access really means to me” for a bit, but it’s cool to have the opportunity to do so now. Certainly, I think about User Services or Access Services as being the library’s front line services, meaning that we are what our patrons/users see first when they come in. And while I think that Capital A Access covers issues as weighty as censorship or net neutrality (which of course I really do care about), it also covers Accessibility, equal access, and even just the way we treat our users.

Throughout the department, we have begun conversations about making sure that copies we provide to our users through E-Reserves or through ILL will be machine readable. I have also thought a lot about our Billing procedures and how Billing can alienate a user from the library—if we block them for fines, then they cannot use our collection, so that’s not great, but the ill-will that can be created shouldn’t be underestimated either. I wouldn’t want a user to think that the library somehow wasn’t there for them. We had a two-tiered Billing system for Lost books and we simplified it to just one bill, and I think that was a good move. If I could think of an effective way to get materials back from users without having to bill them, I would advocate for that.

And then, not lastly, but as a final thought here, I think my staff is really great about listening to our users, and when they have a need that we are somehow not addressing, they bring it to me and we work on getting that need met. I think it’s really important that users see the library as a place *for them* so when I see a place that I can contribute to that, then I try to act there.

Do you have any recent publications or presentation work that you would like to promote or brag about from the past year? Any work like this you are currently working on or hoping to present in the near future?

The last few years, I have been really interested in the ways that we can create a strong library community in Illinois—how can public and academic libraries (and, of course, special libraries and others) support and promote each other? What can we learn from each other? So, I have been grateful for the opportunity to serve on the ILA Reporter Advisory Committee, and I am glad to have the opportunity to write articles for the Reporter. Forthcoming pieces there will be about progress being made on ILA’s Strategic Plan and also an update on the Alma migration for CARLI libraries.

What is something new and exciting that is happening in the libraries at NIU?

Like all CARLI libraries, NIU is migrating to Alma this summer, so that’s really exciting! I think users will be really pleased with it. Our library has also started a program that we are calling the Research and Artistry Lecture Series where once a month we invite an NIU professor to give a lecture on a topic of general interest. It’s still a new program, but it’s going well so far. I like how it puts focus on the library as a place where knowledge is shared, but the theme, “Research and Artistry” also reflects NIU’s vision statement.

What are some hobbies or interests you have that people would expect from someone who works in a library (knitting, cats, wearing your hair in a bun?). Conversely, what are some hobbies or interests you have that might surprise people who know you work in the library (let’s break the stereotypes!)

You know, I really like cross-stitch, which seems somewhat expected from a librarian, I think. I really like my plants at home—I have probably at least 30, and I don’t know that I am “good” at plants, but I have a few that I have had for a while now and I am rather fond of them (I talk to them, they have names, etc.). I’m also taking a class this semester, so it’s harder to have the free time. Hobbies are hard! I have three young children, so they honestly, and rightly, take up a lot of my time. I like True Crime podcasts a lot. I got into sneakers a few years ago, but I would call that an “interest” since I can’t afford to make that a hobby! So, I guess I would say that I like looking at pictures of sneakers sometimes. Very occasionally buying.

You have a BA and MA in English Language and Literature!  Recommend two of your favorite books (one recent, one past) and tell us why you think everyone should read them.

A particular favorite of mine is Wuthering Heights—I’ve read it a few times, and would probably read again if anyone just suggested it to me that I should do so. I enjoy how atmospheric it is, and I really love the use of a double narrator. I think it is intriguing how much of the book is really just about how people feel. I read an observation once that much of Wuthering Heights is people looking in and out of windows, and it’s true!

I feel like in general, I have less time for “fun” reading ☹. So, even though this wouldn’t count as something “new,” I really enjoy reading Agatha Christie right now. I have read all the Miss Marples, and I am moving on to the Poirots now. Why might I recommend those to others? They are just very, very fun to read. So clever and engaging, and they are a fast read, too. Other than that, I read a lot of children’s books right now.

Does NIU carry any of these fun books? And are you also a fan of the BBC adaptations?

NIU carries over 100 Christie titles, so I have lots to choose from! I actually don’t know how familiar I am with the BBC adaptations (I’m interested, though), but I liked the Branagh Mystery on the Orient Express that came out in the last few years, and I recently bought/watched the version of Death on the Nile that came out in the 70s. I really, really love Angela Lansbury, so I like to check out whatever she is in. She has some Marples that I haven’t yet seen, but, when I ever find that free time, I want to. Oh my, but wouldn’t that make a really lovely vacation day! I should really think about doing that.

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